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[kinsale, ireland] Bill Bernbach was a judge. Ditto Bill Westbrook. And Jerry Della Femina, Jay Chiat, David Kennedy, Tom McElligott, Andy Berlin and Ed McCabe.

All took part in what is probably the best awards show you've never heard of. And while it's held every September in a charming European town on the water, it's about as far removed from that Riviera glitz-fest as Sundance used to be from, well, Cannes.

The show is properly called the International Advertising Awards Festival of Ireland, but those who know of it refer to it more simply as Kinsale, for the town where it's held. In an industry where keeping track of who's won what is an increasingly high-priority task, Kinsale is a breath of fresh air-suffused not with the bouquet of Provence's best vin rouge but rather with the bitter scent of a pint of Guinness.


The festival has been around for a surprising 36 years. And while it is not widely known outside the U.K., the show has never had difficulty attracting marquee judges. Mr. Berlin, now chairman at Berlin Cameron & Partners, New York, judged the show back in the early '90s with Mr. Chiat and John Hegarty, chairman and creative director of London's Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

"People don't know how consistently well judged it is," Mr. Berlin said of the festival.

Raising its profile, though, particularly in the U.S., could be challenging, he added: "There are a lot of shows, and what the world needs now is not another."

Yet the organizers of Kinsale are quite interested in hoisting its profile, even at the risk of losing its quaint, undiscovered-gem quality.

A non-profit operation, the festival is administered out of the Dublin offices of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners of Ireland. Most of the entries come, not surprisingly, from Britain, while most of the delegates are from Ireland. Americans don't attend this festival, and they rarely enter it.


While many in the ad community gripe about the sheer number of awards competitions and advertisers for years have professed to care little about them, participation in most shows is up almost across the board. And the number of shows continues to climb, particularly in the area of new media.

The International Advertising Festival at Cannes, for example, claimed its overall entries were up 10% this year compared to last year, and boasted an all-time high number of delegates, including a record number from the U.S.

The One Club's One Show awards have seen entries rise, and even the Clios are back on track, drawing entries again from leading U.S. creative shops and attracting respected creative directors as judges and presenters.

While the strong economy (at least until lately) has certainly played a large part in recent awards show gains, this was also something of a banner year for U.S. work.

Both Grand Prix winners at Cannes came from the U.S., where Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, won for Nike in the TV competition and Arnold Communications, Boston, for VW in print. Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, won two Silvers at the British Design & Art Direction competition with work for Fox Sports, no small accomplishment at this legendarily stingy show.

More important, it seems to some as though the major, multinational agency networks awoke and have started to pay more attention than ever to their awards show performance. Proclaiming themselves the most-awarded global network is now a big deal.


"They want to make sure they're recognized as being strong brands that believe in creative," noted one veteran show observer, who ticked off the number of big agencies hosting soirees in Cannes this past June. "They're not doing this because they like parties-they have solid business reasons."

Indeed, awards shows have become important. Ad agencies can't turn around without getting yet another call for entries in the mail, or announcements touting yet another high-power jury. The Ad Club of New York's 1999 International Andy awards, for example, will include on its 24-person jury such heavyweights as Jeff Goodby, Dan Wieden of Wieden & Kennedy and Lee Clow of TBWA/ Chiat/Day.

But as awards shows continue to grow, one problem is that the inherent value of winning isn't what it used to be, said John Butler, partner and co-creative director at Butler Shine & Stern, Sausalito, Calif. Mr. Butler not only attended the Kinsale festival this year for the first time, but won a Gold Shark-that's what they call their trophies-for a TV spot for Borders Books & Music.


"The whole idea of being creative has become diluted," he said. "Every agency can hold up something that they've won.

"My mailbox is jam-packed with calls for entries from some of the weirdest shows," Mr. Butler continued. "But our industry needs to be aware that there is a bar, something that makes people want to do better."

Tim Delaney, executive creative director of London's Leagas Delaney, has been an outspoken critic of the growing number of shows as well as the costs involved in entering them.

"The awards industry grew out of good intentions," he said, "but people have tapped into it-there's money there."


Mr. Delaney asked, in an age when many agencies are seeing revenues decline and creative departments are seeing their budgets shrink, "Why do we want to spend more of our money slapping each other on the back when what we spend on [award shows] could equal what we pay a junior creative team?"

At a time when money's tight, he suggested, "there's no sense in spending more on what's essentially self-promotion."

Ah, but there's more to the awards track than just that. Yes, agencies tend to use their award show prowess to show off. But they also use their awards to attract, and in some cases keep, their best copywriters and art directors.

Said Jack Rooney, VP-marketing of Miller Brewing Co., whose advertising for Lite beer from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, won two Gold Lions in Cannes this year: "It is the most powerful recruiting tool for creative talent."


To illustrate, Mr. Rooney cited his own experience when he helped open the San Francisco office of Mr. Delaney's highly regarded-and heavily awarded-London agency. "Everyone wanted to talk to us," he noted.

The big agency networks need the standing to compete for talent, Mr. Rooney added, and the only way they can do that is via their trophy cases.

It gives them "the license to talk to good creative teams," he said.

While agencies and production houses are the engines of the awards-show circuit, the client-side rub off is less discernible.

"It's always been important for agencies to do well in the shows. They see it as internal validation that they do good creative work," said Stephen Graham, VP-marketing communications worldwide for AT&T Corp., who has been to Cannes both as an agency executive-during his years with Lowe Group-and as a client. But for clients, awards are less meaningful, except to the people who work in sales and marketing.

"It says that they're not just moving the business, but they're doing work that rewards the viewer," Mr. Graham noted.

Still, "clearly, for clients the final measure is results," he said. And Mr. Rooney agreed.


"You can't find five clients who can tell you what won the Grand Prix at Cannes," Mr. Rooney said, "and if you did, they'd all be ex-agency people."

The reliance on awards shows as the only universally recognized measure of an agency's creative power doesn't sit well with everyone on the agency side. Some agencies actually refuse to play the game.

Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, for example, rarely enters its work in competition. Instead, it takes the money it would normally spend on entries and sends a select group of its staffers, both creative and non-creative, to Cannes each year.

"I don't see the quality in the shows justifying the faith that agencies have in them," said Ron Berger, partner and creative director of the New York-based agency.

Noting that "some agencies have done a pretty good job of marketing themselves around awards shows," Mr. Berger believes an agency's reputation should be based more on the enduring value its brings to its clients' brands, not on how well the work scores in competition.


"Some clients will pooh-pooh awards shows," said Miller's Mr. Rooney. "Our position is that anything that helps our agencies attract better talent, we're in favor of. There's lots of indirect benefit to us."

Of course, if some marketers knew how much time and money went into the pursuit of awards, they might take a different view. All told, it's safe to say agencies and production houses spend millions of dollars a year collectively entering their work in awards competitions.

If you accept their numbers, close to 50,000 ads were entered in Cannes, Clio and the One Show alone this year. At entry fees ranging from $90 for the One Show to almost $300 for Cannes, the dollars quickly mount up-and this doesn't include the costs of tapes, shipping, manpower, the requisite ordering of multiple statuettes for anyone remotely involved with a winning ad and the cost of actually attending the events themselves.


That's not to say this money is wasted. Mr. Graham sees going to Cannes, for example, as "a great professional development opportunity" and thinks more agency clients should be involved in the event. He attended last year as a seminar panelist.

In addition to getting a chance to actually see the work, he pointed out, "It's a chance to be exposed to the people who are the best in the business."

Knowing the tendencies of the agency creative community toward artistic insecurity, coupled with the need for constant approval, there is no reason to expect the industry's love affair with awards will fade anytime soon.

Tracy Wong, partner and creative director at Seattle hot shop WongDoody, has won two Gold Lions at Cannes, one for a campaign he did years ago at Goodby, another this year for his agency's hilarious low-budget campaign for the National Basketball Association's Seattle SuperSonics.

"This business is built on the making of widgets, and for all the widget makers it's how we get our boost," Mr. Wong said. "It's all based on ego; it's how careers are made."


"For the most part," said another award-winning creative director who asked to remain anonymous, "you don't care about the success of your client. You care about the shows. That's what drives your lifestyle."

Love 'em or hate 'em, dismiss them as pretentious self-aggrandizement or legitimate measures of an agency's ability to build clients' brands, the one big motivation for creatives that awards-show mania tends to overlook is mere pride in a job well done.

"The real reason to do good work can be found in Ecclesiates," said David Fowler, a top free-lance copywriter who judged Kinsale back when he was creative director at what was then Tracy/Locke in Dallas (and now an office of DDB Needham Worldwide).

"Whatsoever a man setteth his hand to do, he shall do with all his might."

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